Curlew LIFE project talk by Emma Hewson

Curlew Life Project

Emma an RSPB Project officer gave a very interesting talk to the RSPB North Wales Local group on the North Wales project to help stop the decline in the curlew population. 25% of the world’s curlew live in the UK. Curlews have been identified as one of the ten species “to save the world”. They are a bioindicator of healthy habitats, with bogs and insect life thriving. However, there has been a 75% decline in their numbers in the last 25 years, suggesting extinction in North Wales by 2033.The Curlew Life projects aims to create enhanced habitat conditions which will lead to stable curlew populations on project sites.

A curlew can live for 35 years, however will not breed until aged 3. The chicks are quite independent once born and will wander away from the parents making it vulnerable to attack. The Curlew LIFE project spend time working with farmers and National Trust to create suitable areas to attract curlews. They are trying to restore peatland and are blocking ditches on farms to raise the water table and create boggy land. The team is building scrapes and young curlews will feed on the edges of the wet area. Emma explained about having attracted nesting curlews to an area the project understands that every chick born need protecting. Therefore the volunteers and RSPB staff then try to find curlew nests, using thermal imaging and by the team walking the potential nesting areas. Once a nest is found, it is protected with electric fences, the aim being to stop predators eating the chicks. The Curlew team weigh and measure the eggs to identify hatching dates. They are also attempting to ring chicks and radio tag them to help find the nests and to monitor their movements. One of the greatest threats to the chicks are buzzards, so the group are experimenting with feeding stations for the birds, hoping that a full buzzard will not need to eat young curlew chicks. One of Emma’s interesting details was about how cows and horses can help by grazing an area yet how they could accidentally destroy a nest. She brought in a cow collar. The cows wear the collar which plays sounds at increasing loudness if the cow is getting to close to a curlew nest. If the cow gets too near a small electric shock is given to the cow. Apparently, the sounds deter the cows from certain area, thereby acting as a virtual fence.

Volunteers are always needed to help the project. Emma inspired the 36 of us at the talk to think more carefully about the fate of the curlew when we see one by the coastline in North Wales.